This rather different eco lodge is owned by the same people as the Villa Maly hotel that we stayed in while in Luang Prabang.
In order to get to the lodge you have to go on one of the motor launches up the Mekong river for around three hours. This is included in the accommodation cost as there is no other way of getting there.
We met our guide at the landing stage in Luang Prabang and someone carried our bags down on to the boat. It was a long way down to the river as the river was very low but the plank across was wide enough and so we managed to get onto the boat without any nasty accidents.
ON THE MEKONG
Once on the boat we had a choice of most of the seats as the only other people on board were our guide, the manager of the hotel and Lan, a lovely Vietnamese girl who was a fellow guest and of course the driver of the boat. The boat was open sided but had a roof so we were out of the sun but able to see everything going up around us. The seats were wooden benches and there were plenty of life jackets on all the seats. I can’t say it was greatly comfortable but we felt the wind blowing through the boat and we certainly saw an awful lot more than we did when we were last on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia.
We were offered coffee or tea and our guide also pointed out that there was a toilet at the back of the boat. This was pretty basic but served the purpose!! We were also given a couple of bottles of water and once we got to the lodge there were two more bottles in our tent so they looked after us well with water.
The journey to the lodge was early in the morning and on the way we saw local villagers gathering the river weed that is flavoured with tomato and garlic and sesame seeds flattened and spread it on to bamboo trays to dry. Once dried the sheets were rolled and packed into plastic bags. The large sheets are then cut into smaller squares to deep fry quickly before being served with a pretty potent chilli relish and served as a delicacy with drinks. We also passed fishermen, buffalo grazing on the banks, women washing clothes, children swimming and all sorts of activity that entertained us for the journey.
Just out of interest it is possible to go by the Mekong from Luang Prabang to Thailand. If you go by small speed boat it talks about 4 or 5 hours but you can go on a larger craft with cabins and this takes a couple of days but this is only possible when the river is the optimum depth.
THE PAK OU CAVES
After two hours we arrived at the Pak Ou caves. These caves face the mouth of the river Ou and there are two main caves both of which require you to climb some fairly large, steep and uneven steps from the landing area. Depending on when you arrive you may also have to go through several other boats to get to the landing area.
Both caves are full of thousands of Buddha statues. These statues have been placed in the caves over hundreds of years. The statues vary in size, condition and what they are made from. They are also in the many different poses of Buddha; some have flowers and gifts in front of them while others are so high up and on ledges that you can hardly see them. The caves are considered very spiritual to local people and they are a site of pilgrimage. During the Lao New Year which is in April there is a special ceremony when all the Buddha statues in every temple are ceremonially washed. There is a special washing pipe and bowl which is very ornamental and in most temples one can be found. There are two in these caves, these special highly decorated Buddha washing constructions are called Hang-Lin.
After climbing the many steep steps up to the second cave which is very dark inside. So dark that even with our torches it was hard to see all the statues in the cave. Both caves are kept really clean and there are several small stalls with local people selling items you can put on the offering tables, insence sticks and other souvenirs and snacks. Nobody was forceful at all and we just smiled as said ‘sabai dee’ and they smiled back. After climbing back down the steps we made our way back to our boat for the rest of the journey up river to Kamu Lodge.
ARRIVING AT KAMU LODGE
After about another hour in the boat we arrived at the lodge and were met by a number of the members of staff. The landing area was a floating landing platform and then two planks onto solid ground. Once onto the solid ground we were faced with a huge sand dune to climb aided by bamboo ‘steps’. The steps were partially covered with sand and you still sort of slid down as you walked up. I was wearing crocs and took them off as it was easier to walk on the sand. Luckily the lovely young men carried our bags up for us even though we only had small back packs as we had left our main bags at the Villa Maly in their lockable storage room.
At the top of the large sand dune (the river was low so this may not be such a climb if the river is higher) we were greeted by a line up of staff members who put a bamboo leaf lae around our necks as a welcome and also gave us a refreshing cold drink. The layout of the ‘resort’ explained , times for lunch and our afternoon activity time and then we were given our keys and shown the way to our rooms.
Once again we had to walk up steps to the top and then down more steps to our room. The rooms are actually tents with a concrete additional side extension with is the bathroom. The key opens a padlock on the tent flap but more importantly the padlock fits onto a large very heavy wooden box which we put all our stuff into when we were out and about. I do think that the things would have been fairly safe as there are lots of people around and the only way to get into the ‘resort’ is from the river. The village next door relies heavily on the ‘resort’ for jobs so they would be unlikely to spoil their opportunities by stealing but it was better not to put temptation in the way so we played it safe and used the big chest and padlock.
The tent was a good solid canvas construction with several ‘windows’. It was a decent size as it had two single beds. A couple of small bedside tables and the chest as well as a coat stand for hanging clothes on. There was electricity so we had two small fans by the beds and lights but no sockets for charging anything as the electricity was from a generator. It was actually quite cool in the night so we didn’t need the fan but we did use the mosquito nets and lots of bug spray and we were not bitten at all.
The bathroom was pretty basic. It was actually a wet room with a toilet, a sink which had no tap and then there was a shower head which hung on the wall and this you took off to wash your hands in the sink. They left us a little soap and a shampoo and we were provided with two fairly thin white towels which were made into a towel decoration on our beds.
We had two chairs and a table on a ‘patio’ in front of our tent and from here we could enjoy a view of the spa and the river below. We also watched a couple of naughty buffalo running away from their owner who was trying to herd them back to the village.
This entire resort was up and down we climbed steps to the tent, then down to the ‘spa’ then up to the top and down to the restaurant and every time we went anywhere there was a climb! There are twenty of these tents so had they all been full it would have been quite crowded. I believe there were about seventeen guests that night so about half full I suppose.
Below our tent was the spa; a hut with open sides and a bamboo floor. We visited this luxury establishment for a Laos massage after our activities in the afternoon. There was a small rattan changing room where you changed into a pair of baggy trousers and a top for the massage. The price of this massage was $12 US . This is a massage with clothes on and no oil but a very deep and penetrating massage most thorough and so painful but felt good afterwards. My husband said he had no idea that someone so small could inflict so much pain! This was the only treatment available and as you lay ‘enjoying’ the treatment you had a view of the buffalo grazing and the river through the trees.
THE BAR AND RESTAURANT
These were two separate open sided thatched buildings which were separated by an elevated path between the padi fields. The bar was just a collection of rattan chairs where could sit and enjoy a drink which was brought to you from the restaurant hut. It was most atmospheric sitting there as the sun went down watching the men coming to light the kerosene lamps along the paths. We also were entertained by the local village children running around the fields with torches catching crickets which they then put on skewers and barbequed.
The restaurant was similar to the bar only larger with wooden floors. The tables were so heavy and the chairs similar as I could barely lift them to slide them back. The kitchen was a pretty long walk away so the staff ran backwards and forwards with food to the serving area then they brought it to the tables on the plates.
Food was plentiful, nicely prepared and authentic. I found that the meat was a little tougher in the dishes than it had been in Luang Prabang so I carefully avoided the meat and went for the veggies. Desert was fresh fruit sliced and prepared, papaya, sapodilla and mango or banana or dragon fruit in different combinations. I wouldn’t rush back for the food alone but when you think that they were right out in the middle of nowhere the food was okay. The lunch and dinner were similar and on both occasions we had fruit for dessert.
Breakfast was pretty unexciting. Hubby had scrambled eggs but I don’t eat eggs so i had three tiny bananas and a couple of slices of warm French bread which was tasty and fresh but bread and jam isn’t my favourite breakfast. I would have preferred a bowl of fresh fruit and a yogurt.
YOU THOUGHT THIS WAS GOING TO BE A PLACE TO SIT AND RELAX!
At 2.30pm we met our lovely guide and had activities to entertain us, archery with a homemade sort of cross bow and my husband was very pleased to get a Bull’s Eye while I was happy to hit the target! We also went down the sand dune towards the river to learn how to cast one of their fishing nets, which was surprising heavy and very difficult to do. We were given the opportunity to do some gold panning but this required getting into the river so we declined and just admired the local person’s skill.
We also went to visit the village next door. The village had three different Laos tribes all living in the village Hmomg , Kamu and Lao- Loum. The people were all very friendly and smiled and said hello to us. The lady in the little shop was selling Lao lao whisky ( more like vodka in my view0 in recycled water bottles. We didn’t want to buy a bottle but we did have a taste each and we gave her the price of a bottle for letting us try it. The children who so sweet and all wanted their photo taken then asked to see the picture which made them giggle and run away.
Our guide Lee was lovely and translated for us. We were with a young girl from Vietnam and she loved the children. We went to the school buildings but it was International Ladies Day and a public holiday so it was closed.
The village had a temple which was not open and the house next door was where one monk and two novices lived. When they rang the wooden bell the villagers brought food twice a day. Not a bad life and very different from the monks in Luang Prabang who had to walk through the town with their bowls to get their food.
AFTER DINNER ENTERTAINMENT
After our evening meal we were invited over to join the village children and their teacher near the huge fire as they had prepared some singing for us. They sang a few local songs and then they performed some dances followed by assort if bamboo skipping game. This was a bit like elastics but with two bamboo poles that were banged on the ground then together in rhythm, the idea was you jumped in between the poles keeping to the rhythm. They were very good and the only other time I have seen this was at the Opening Ceremony of the Brisbane Commonwealth Games when a Philippine group performed this dance and there it is known as Tinikling. If you want to have a look then go to Youtube and type in Tinikling and there are several videos to watch.
The next day we were ready to leave after breakfast and this return journey only took two hours in total as we went with the current. It was actually quite chilly in the boat and we were given blankets to wrap around us and we enjoyed our cup of hot tea too. The hazy dawn on the river was very atmospheric and we also saw people panning for gold as well as, fishermen and larger river vessels.
This was a very special trip. The entire experience was just lovely; everyone made a real effort to make the stay perfect. We were entertained and educated as well a fed and accommodated in a peaceful rural eco retreat.
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